Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Four) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – Yorick reaches Australia after three years since the plague hit. Will he finally find Beth?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

Having arrived in Sydney aboard an Australian submarine, Yorick is determined to find Beth. Though Agent 355 accompanies him and tries to watch his back, he’s found by a reporter who takes a photo of him with all his man bits on display so she can publish the news to the world and win a Pulitzer.

Agent 355 finds the reporter but fails to retrieve the film. Yorick is able to convince her to let the reporter go and allow the photo to be published because it’s a tabloid paper as opposed to a ‘real’ newspaper, and no woman will believe the tabloid photo.

Returning to his search, Yorick discovers that Beth has left for Paris to search for him. Paris is meant to hold some special meaning between the pair, but Yorick has no idea what that might be and why she would journey to France in search of him.

Meanwhile, Ampersand the monkey has arrived in Yokogata and managed to escape from the clutches of Toyota, a Japanese ninja (never thought I’d write a sentence like that…)

Review

Conflicting agendas are the name of the game at the start of book 4 of Y: The Last Man. Agent 355 and Dr Mann want to head to Yokogata to rescue Ampersand. On the other hand, Yorick has finally reached Australia and wants to find Beth. Agent 355 agrees to giving him 24 hours to see what he can find about Beth and her location and then it’s destination Japan.

Though he ends up getting photographed nude and published in a tabloid newspaper, he discovers that Beth has left the Land Down Under for the lights of Paris, which makes absolutely no sense to Yorick.

A lot of threads continue to get tugged as we follow Yorick’s journey. As the reader, we get to jump all around the world and see what is happening to the various people Yorick has interacted with previously. A number of surprises include:

  • The Beth who lives in Cooksfield, California that seduced Yorick is now pregnant with a baby girl. She is visited by Hero and joins her. Together, they head to Kansas to meet up with the Hartle twins.
  • In Washington, Yorick’s mother, Jennifer (aka Secretary Brown) discovers the tabloid and photo of him and realises he is still alive. Unfortunately, she is visited by Alter, the Israeli rebel, and is murdered.
  • More backstory on Agent 355 and how she came to work for the Culper Ring. The surprise being that she ended up killing her teacher, who attempted to assassinate the president after joining the splinter group, Setauket Ring.
  • The origins of Ampersand and his immunity are shown. He was a test monkey and injected with mysterious serum and was meant to be shipped off to Dr Mann’s laboratory. In transit, however, he ended up escaping and getting mixed up with another monkey that was destined for “Helping Hands” (an organisation that trains monkeys to help disable people). When Yorick applied at Helping Hands, he was assigned Ampersand.
  • Alter interrogates the Hartle twins and finds out that Yorick is making his way to Paris. We learn more of Alter’s origins, and there’s small surprise that she joined the army not to seek revenge for her sister’s death (who we thought was killed by Palestinians) but because she believes the world will always have war and operates on bloodshed. We discover that Alter’s sister was actually killed protesting against the destruction of Palestinian homes by an Israeli Defence Forces bulldozer.

However, the juiciest pieces of the puzzle come forth from Dr Allison Mann as we get several flashbacks to her upbringing. As a child, she learned her father, Dr Matsumori (a radical bioengineer) was having an affair with his research assistant, Dr Ming. We also learn he and Dr Ming were also studying cloning.

It then jumps to when Allison was a young adult, living in America with her father and falling in love with another woman named Mercedes. When her father announces that they will be moving to China, Allison refuses and accuses her father of wanting to get back together with Dr Ming. The dissolution of her relationship with her father leads her to move in with Mercedes. However, their relationship does not last, which leaves an indelible mark on Allison.

Jumping forward to where she is now a lecturer in genetics at Harvard, she receives the news that her father is a few years away from cloning himself. Refusing to allow her father to achieve such a scientific breakthrough, Allison seeks to clone herself and dangerously self-impregnates with the help of her assistant Sunil. This then leads into the events we see in book one where she is rushed to hospital because something is wrong with the baby and then the “instant” plague hits killing every man on earth except Yorick.

These flashbacks bring us full circle to the present where Allison is back on the submarine in her cabin and starts haemorrhaging. The complications of her failed birth to her clone has clearly left damage that is now coming back to haunt her.

If there are any shortfalls with book four, it lies in a feeling of repetitiveness. There is even dialogue between Yorick and Agent 355 that reflects that they just seem to jump from one dangerous situation to the next. Agent 355 is at wits’ end and lets out a number of expletives at how hard it all is, while Yorick tries to console her. However, when you you’re the last man on earth, there were always going to be several countries of women looking to find him. You can always trust politics or misplaced religious beliefs to ensure little agreement as to who should “secure” Yorick.

With only one volume remaining, it will be interesting to see what will be the fate of Yorick, Ampersand, Agent 355 and Dr Mann.

4 out of 5.

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Three) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – The answers to saving humanity rest on the shoulders of one man, Yorick Brown, or so we thought…

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for reviews of previous books of this Eisner award winning series.

Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann reach San Francisco to Mann’s backup lab where they hope to finally get some answers as to why Yorick was the only man that survived a mysterious plague that wiped out every other man (and mammal with a Y chromosome) on earth simultaneously.

He and his pet monkey, Ampersand, are the only males known to be alive after this apocalyptic event.

While they undergo tests, Yorick and Agent 355 explore what has become of the city. They eventually are found by three different parties, all with different motives.

There is Hero, Yorick’s sister, who has been deprogrammed and is battling her brainwashing as an Amazon (a group of women who believe men were the oppressors and the world is better without them) and desires to find her brother to seek his forgiveness for killing a woman Yorick cared for in Marrisville (refer book two).

Then there is a splinter group known as the Setauket Ring that is looking to obtain the Amulet of Helene taken by Agent 355. There is a myth around the amulet that should it ever be removed from Jordan, a catastrophe would befall the world (refer book one). The Setauket Ring believe it is this amulet that caused the plague to occur.

Last, is a Japanese ninja named Toyota. She has been following the trio for some time but her target is not Yorick, Agent 355 or Dr Mann. She’s after Ampersand and has been hired by a mystery person named “Doctor M” to retrieve the monkey.

When Dr Mann finally obtains what she believes is the reason why Yorick survived the plague, it coincides with the above three groups colliding into them and not everyone coming out alive or unharmed. Dr Mann believes that Ampersand has some sort of mutation in him, and the monkey has a penchant for throwing its faeces at Yorick, who in turn obtained protection from the plague.

Toyota successfully captures Ampersand and heads to Japan, which results in Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann boarding a cruise ship that supposedly is transporting medical supplies but turns out is tons of heroin, and they end up in a sea battle with an Australian submarine. In book one, it was revealed when 2.9 billion men were wiped out, Australia, Norway and Sweden were the only countries that had women serving on board submarines at the time.

Through all of this, we see flashbacks of Yorick and how he came to fall in love with Beth.

Speaking of Beth, we finally get to see what she has been up to in the Australian Outback since the outbreak. Suffice to say, she is going through her own trials.

Review

The third volume in Vaughan’s series is chock full of plots and sub-plots that examines the multitude of perspectives from characters living in a world where all men except one have been wiped out.

It should be noted that while Yorick is the last man, the future of humankind does not rest solely on his shoulders as it is revealed that the female astronaut (from book two) has successfully given birth to a baby boy in a hot suite (basically, a medical bubble that provides protection from all external germs). However, the boy will most certainly die if it steps outside the hot suite, thus the need to find a vaccine.

A lot of themes continue to be examined including religion, sexuality, identity and purpose, and gender roles. One of the more interesting examinations is at the beginning of volume three, where Yorick enters a Catholic church in Cooksfield, California, and encounters a woman named Beth (no, not his girlfriend Beth who is stuck in Australia but a ‘new’ Beth). It seems Yorick wants to confess his sins but Beth reveals technically it’s no use because only auricular confessions (i.e., confessions made to a priest) can be heard and thus forgiven. This dilemma is short-lived, however, as Yorick’s conscience mustn’t be too heavy cause he ends up being seduced by Beth.

While a lot goes on, thankfully, it appears a number of sub-plots also get tied up. The Amulet of Helene turns out to be just a sandstone figurine with no magical powers. It gets smashed by the Setauket Ring who blackmail Agent 355 into giving it to them.

Hero achieves forgiveness and reconciliation with her brother, and she even manages to get over the mind games of her deceased Amazonian leader, Victoria. She ends up heading back east to tell their mother that Yorick is safe.

Ampersand is revealed as being the ‘miracle’ (not Yorick) containing a mutation that protects mammals with the Y chromosome from the plague. But the celebrations are short lived as Ampersand is monkey-napped by Toyota the Japanese Ninja.

It becomes clearer that Agent 355 is harbouring feelings for Yorick. Things get complicated when she ends up sleeping with Dr Mann because she thinks Yorick is sleeping with the captain of the cruise ship heading to Japan.

All in all though, the most interesting revelations in book three revolve around Yorick’s supposed true love, Beth (yes, the ‘Beth’ that is stuck in Australia). For the first time, we get to see her side more and the memories she has of her relationship with Yorick. These flashbacks lend much needed depth to her character, which up until now was only portrayed as an attractive blonde who looks good in a bikini and hiking boots (yes, in book one she is shown to be an anthropologist studying Aboriginals in the Australian outback, but really all you get is a character that is good-looking with a pretence at depth).

Will Yorick and Beth reunite? Only two volumes remain to find out.

4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book Two) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – Yorick, Dr Allison Mann and Agent 355 are heading to the west coast to Allison’s lab where they hope to find the answers to how Yorick survived a plague that wiped out every man on earth except him.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Click here for review of book one of this Eisner award winning series.

Yorick is trying to make his way to California with Agent 355 and Dr Mann. Along the way they bump into a Russian secret agent, a group of Israeli troopers, a travelling theatre troupe called Fish & Bicycle, a Japanese ninja, a posse of rangers, and a militia group that has taken over Arizona and cut off transport from east to west and vice versa. And then there’s Agent 711, friend to Agent 355, who turns out to be a dominatrix psychologist (I’ll let all that sink in for a moment).

And last, but certainly not least, there’s also the crew of three astronauts returning from the international space station… two of them men…

Review

There’s a lot of people hunting down Yorick including:

  • Alter, the new chief of the Israeli army, is wanting to kidnap Yorick and keep the last man in the country of Israel. She views wars as a means of control. In her mind, a country not at war with another country will implode by fighting itself.
  • The Amazons, a group of women who believe that the world should be rid of all men. They think the world would be a better place without the testosterone, but they rule with a matriarchal iron fist, which shows they’re not any better than their deceased Y-chromosome counterparts.
  • His mother, congresswoman Jennifer Brown, who actually reunited with Yorick briefly in book one before sending him off with Agent 355 to the west coast. She now believes that the Culper Ring (a mysterious US government agency) that Agent 355 works for has its own agenda and she has placed her son in danger.

However, it is not these encounters that drive book two of Y: The Last Man. The psychological, emotional and physical impacts of 2.9 billion men dying in an instant on the remaining female population along with somehow immune Yorick and his pet male monkey, Ampersand, is what makes this series riveting.

While the dystopian reactions of the remaining female groups are expected, the surprises come in the form of moments where more backstory is revealed for Yorick, Agent 355 and Dr Mann.

Agent 355’s encounter with Russian agent, Natalya Zamyatin, leads to the discovery that three astronauts are returning from the international space station, and the possibility that Yorick will no longer be “the last man” on earth. Unfortunately, the astronauts suffer complications in re-entry and only the female astronaut survives. Also turns out that the female astronaut is pregnant and later we find out it’s a boy. While these implications are yet to be fully explored, we learn that Agent 355 appears to be a decent woman trying to do the right thing (in contrast to Congresswoman Brown who thinks she has an alternative agenda).

Dr Mann confesses she has been lying to Yorick and Agent 355 all along, revealing that when she was pregnant she was actually carrying a clone of herself. She has serious doubts that she will unravel the mystery of the plague and somehow save humanity. We also learn she has a serious attraction to Agent 355.

The best bits, however, are saved for Yorick. The biggest revelation being that his reckless desire to jump into danger stems not from his clueless and goofy attitude but something far deeper. Something that only arises to the surface when he is tortured and seduced and put through the wringer by dominatrix psychologist Agent 711. This is by far the most riveting sequence in book two where Yorick is left in Agent 711’s care while Agent 355 and Dr Mann take an injured Ampersand to a hospital in search of meds.

Agent 711 is given a journal that Agent 355 has been keeping and learns about Yorick’s adventures to date. Adventures that have spanned over a year and a half now. Through this she identifies that Yorick, for some reason, has a desire for self-destruction (even though he supposedly wants to get to Australia and find the woman he loves, Beth).

Through her unique method of “therapy”, Agent 711 gets Yorick to dig deep into his soul much to his objection. His memories and experiences revealing scars and how he would have no trouble in simply giving up. He confesses as such to Agent 711 who grants his wish by shoving his head underwater. However, it is in this near death moment that Yorick sees something (not revealed to us) that gives him a reason to want to live, and he fights back.

Book two is not without flaws though as I found the chapters relating to the Fish & Bicycle travelling troupe not as strong. Still, there’s plenty going on. Enough to keep you eagerly turning each page. Engrossing.

4.5 out of 5.

Book Review: Y: The Last Man (Book One) by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra & Jose Marzan Jr.

TL;DR – a plague strikes the world instantly killing every mammal with a Y chromosome except for Yorick. The last man on earth.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

In 2002, an unknown plague wipes every sperm, foetus, and mammal with a Y chromosome except for Yorick and his pet (male) Capuchin monkey. Approximately 2.9 billion men are now dead.

Welcome to the new world…

Review

Y: The Last Man is the winner of three Eisner awards and has a quote from Stephen King on its cover that simply states, “The best graphic novel I’ve ever read.”

High praise equals high expectations. Brian K. Vaughan has imagined an intriguing and gripping premise. The story begins in Brooklyn, New York where a mother runs up to a police woman saying her boys are sick. The police woman says it’s too late. She says the same thing has happened to her husband, and it’s happening across the entire city. All the men are dead. The police woman then pulls out her Glock and points it at her head.

The story then jumps to twenty-nine minutes prior to this cataclysmic event. We meet Yorick, an unemployed young man, hanging upside down in a strait jacket, talking on the phone to his girlfriend, Beth, who is on a holiday in the Australian outback. Yorick is a bit of a budding magician and manages to get out of the strait jacket before chasing after his pet monkey, Ampersand. Yorick applied for Ampersand from some group in Boston who are seeking to train the monkeys to help with quadriplegics.

As the countdown continues, we jump to different parts of the world and meet other characters including:

  • Yorick’s mother, Congresswoman Jen Brown who is in Washington D. C. She’s a Democrat, who has a heated debate with a Senator in her own party about amendment 1646. Senator Marty wants her to vote against the amendment which would prevent State Departments providing foreign aid to organisations that perform abortions. Jen doesn’t want to vote against it and is accused by Senator Marty of being pro-life.
  • Alter, a female colonel fighting in Nablus in the West Bank. She actually doesn’t know her first name (‘Alter’ is a nickname given to her by her friends). When two of her siblings died at birth and she came along, her parents decided not to speak her name out loud as a way of deceiving the angel of death from finding her.
  • Agent 355, an American female spy/assassin working in Al Karak, Jordan. She confronts a Dr Frozan Hamad and tries to convince Dr Hamad to escape with her. The doctor refuses stating that Jordan is her home, and she will continue to fight for the rights of women in her country. But Agent 355 tells her the threat against her is not because of her political beliefs but because of the amulet she wears around her neck. The amulet of Helene, which was given to her by her father. The story behind the artefact is that if the amulet was ever removed from Jordan then a catastrophe comparable to the Trojan War would take place. Unfortunately, Dr Hamad gets attacked and though Agent 355 manages to kill the assassins, the good doctor dies. Agent 355 takes the amulet and hops on a plane back America.
  • Bioengineer, Dr Mann, who has been rushed to hospital because she is in labour even though she is six weeks early. Michael Gilman is the doctor on site and happens to be one of Dr Mann’s previous students (he took her biotech class). In a weird exchange, Dr Mann reveals to Dr Gilman that she is pregnant with her ‘clone’.
  • Hero, a female paramedic in Boston, Massachusetts, who is having a quick romp in the back of her ambulance with a fire fighter named Joe. Seems Hero has a bit of a reputation and is sleeping her way through all the guys in the fire fighter department. There’s also hints in the opening pages that she is the daughter of Congresswoman Brown and brother to Yorick.

When the twenty-nine minutes expire, scenes all around the world are shown of men (and male animals) dying including Congresswoman Brown’s male aide, the male reporters working with Alter, the male pilot that Agent 355 is flying with, Dr Gilman and fire fighter Joe who dies in Hero’s arms.

A page of text is then presented outlining a number of statistics such as 495 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are now dead; in the US alone, more than 95% of all commercial pilots, truck drivers, and ship captains died… as did 92% of all violent felons. Internationally, 99% of all mechanics, electricians, and construction works are now deceased… though 51% of the planet’s agriculture labour force is still alive.

Of particular note, it states that only 14 nations including Spain and Germany, have women soldiers who have served in ground combat units. None of the United States’ nearly 200,000 female troops have ever participated in ground combat. Australia, Norway and Sweden are the only countries that have women serving on board submarines. And in Israel, all women between the age of 18 and 26 have performed compulsory military service in the Israeli Defense Force for at least one year and nine months.

And all of the above is only in part one (of five parts in book one) of this dystopian journey for Yorick Brown who seeks to find his mother and sister and reunite with Beth (who he proposed over the phone to before chaos erupted).

Craziness abounds as Yorick encounters a female ex-model who now drives a garbage truck and collects all the deceased males from houses and buildings in exchange for food; a group of women calling themselves Amazons who believe Mother Earth has rid the planet of the scourge that is man; wives of Republicans who seek to wrest the power of the White House from the Democrats; a small country town that is self-sufficient called Marrisville run by a group of women who are hiding a dark secret; and Alter and her Israeli soldiers who are being helped by an unseen ally trying to hunt down Yorick.

Plus there’s a huge surprise on the last page.

Crikey! This is brilliant stuff.

5 out of 5.